by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 7, 2017


Some shows are just unclassifiable, "Trinkets," a new musical about tranny hookers (yes, we can use the word, because it's what they used. WORD!) follows a three-woman posse of fierceness in the '90s, the last time the Meatpacking District would actually be a meatpacking district.

There are a lot of bad things I could say about "Trinkets." Like, say, its lack of a coherent narrative. There is the Cinderella saga of Strawberry, a barely legal (probably more like not-quite legal) newbie whose naivety brackets the show's beginning and end. And, oh yes, another unseen streetwalker, whose brutal beating death by a client in a Queens no-tell motel provides an excuse for a fundraiser.

Like the rest of these girls, Strawberry can't get a real job because back in the day, children, before there were RuPaul and Caitlyn and trans infantry soldiers and trans priests and trans everything, companies didn't hire transexuals. Nor did any store, even in the hip enclaves of downtown Manhattan.

The one exception was Pat Field's legendary boutique. That's where Paul Alexander, the non-cisgendered (did I just write that???) creator of "Trinkets," did his first -- and last -- "collection," six pieces before he decided that fashion design, which he had been studying since high school and college, where he was always one step behind wunderkind Marc Jacobs, was not his thing.

Alexander, however, got lucky: Jackie 60, the party that defined '90s underground style, hired him as MC. Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell took over Tuesdays at Mother and created performance art masquerading as a club night.

It, along with Florent and the L.U.R.E., helped turn the Meatpacking District into a "Destination," thereby unwittingly unleashing the forces that would transform a gritty non-neighborhood where rats flocked to feed on waste from the wholesale butcher into the far Left Bank of Le Marais, which inevitably spelled the end of everything that made it desirable in the first place.

By concentrating on the girls who worked the brick streets servicing men looking for a freaky thrill, Alexander has preserved a moment in time that would otherwise have been lost.

Alexander definitely knows the milieu. Diva, Strawberry's mentor, wants to get out of The Life but knows there's no other way she's going to survive. You know Diva, along with her sidekicks -- a gorgeous Beyoncť by way of Miss Diana Ross, and a dominatrix -- love each other like sisters from the way they savage each other's looks, tricks, hair, make-up and anything else that flies on the radar.

Honey Davenport, Jay Knowles and Antyon LeMonte, were a little wobbly in their line readings at the opening, but by the Second Act, they were doing those head shakes, finger snaps and talks to the hand with verve.

Diva's discontent is understandable, since her (real-life??) sister landed a sugar daddy who helped her buy a nightclub that serves as the central meeting place for the girls and a trio of straights that, along with the requisite cross-dressing homie drug dealer (hey, it's the '90s) fills out the cast.

Kevin Aviance, by now an elder statesperson of downtown gender-fuck style, is what movies and TV shows call Special Guest Star status. Aviance, as the club's MC, sings but mostly just... is.

Strawberry's improbably easy conquest of a man too good to be real (in the musical or in real life!) is nearly upset by a supermodel whom this French photographer had been squiring around town. That, plus an even more improbable chance encounter that gives Diva hope for a better future, is pretty much all there is to "Trinkets."

And yet, despite my better judgment, I loved it. Alexander's score certainly helps. A pastiche of '90s dance music, including Freestyle, hip-hop, rap, Top 40 disco and House, the songs manage to seem both generic and fresh.

Whatever. Alexander has a real ear for dance-music idioms, and the songs work; or rather, WURK! If these girls aren't professionally trained dancers, they understand how to shimmy, shake and vogue. In a great mid-Second Act number, we learn that so do the two coke-infused straight girls.

He also knows his way around a lyric. If the moon-June-spoon rhymes are simple, they're certainly no worse than most rap songs. And they're spiced up with some lines like my personal favorite, "And remember: Tipping is not just a city in China."

The tiny Gene Frankel is the perfect venue for this show, small enough so there's no need for miking the performers (thank, you, Jesus!). The cast is up close and personal.

By the end of this highly inventive and totally fun show, the entire audience has become sisters.

"Trinkets" runs through August 16 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond St. in Noho between Broadway and Lafayette. For information or tickets, call 917-841-7587 or visit Brown Paper Tickets.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).